23. Telegram From the Mission to the United Nations to the Department of State1

1181. Dept pass White House for the President and the Secretary. After five meetings of the UN reps of our Four Powers on the Middle East,2 it seems time to submit a brief assessment of progress and prospects.

My judgment continues to be that all Four, including the Soviets, wish to promote a package settlement leading to a durable peace in the Middle East. While significant differences remain, it is not my impression that any of them are irreconcilable as far as the Four themselves are concerned. If the decision rested solely with them, they could probably come to agreement rather rapidly. The problem is to formulate pro[Page 77]posals which have a reasonable prospect of being accepted by the parties. Even in this respect, significant progress has been registered both in the Four Powers talks and particularly in the US-Soviet bilaterals in Washington.

There seems to be agreement among the Four that (1) their aim is a just and lasting peace, not another armistice, (2) their recommendations should be based on the UN Security Council Resolution of November 1967 and should be submitted to the parties by Ambassador Jarring for final negotiation and implementation, (3) all terms of settlement would have to be agreed upon by the parties and not be imposed by the Four, (4) all the terms are closely interconnected and would have to be agreed as a package before any part could be implemented, (5) the terms would have to be embodied in an internationally binding document or documents which would commit the parties to each other and to the international community and which would be comprehensive and irrevocable, (6) the political independence and territorial inviolability of all states in the area, including Israel, is recognized and should be guaranteed in various ways by the international community, (7) each state in the area is entitled to secure and recognized boundaries which could be those of June 4, 1967, or could involve rectification in the interest of mutual security accepted by both sides, (the USSR has not yet formally agreed to the rectification for security concept but seems likely to do so), (8) Israeli forces should, when binding commitments to peace have been undertaken, withdraw from occupied territories to the lines of June 1967 or to new agreed lines, (9) freedom of navigation for Israel through the Suez Canal and the Strait of Tiran should be guaranteed, (10) there should be a final settlement of the refugee problem involving, in some form acceptable to the parties, free choice for the refugees between repatriation or resettlement with compensation, (11) there will probably have to be demilitarized zones and some form of UN presence along some of the frontiers.

Major unresolved points are the following: (1) Rectifications in the June 1967 boundaries: the British and French have emphasized that these should be minor, the Soviets very minor. We have simply stressed that they must be for mutual security and must be agreed, though in fact we also feel there need be no changes in the Israeli-UAR line and that changes on the Israel-Jordan line to the benefit of Israel might be compensated by the transfer of Gaza to Jordan. (2) There has been no real discussion of Jerusalem which all clearly feel might be the hardest problem to resolve. (3) Demilitarized zones: the Israelis would probably wish the whole West Bank and the whole Sinai demilitarized. The Soviets have countered with the proposal the zones should be of equal extent on both sides of the boundary. In fact, Jordan would probably agree to demilitarization of the West Bank but there would have to [Page 78]be some compromise on Sinai. (4) UN presence: this has not been discussed in depth but we see no major difficulties in agreeing on some such presence and on its withdrawal being subject to SC approval. This would be particularly necessary at Sharm el Sheik. (5) The means of limiting repatriation of refugees to Israel to an acceptable number may present difficulties. (6) The character of international guarantees has been only briefly touched on, but would presumably be in the SC framework. (7) The exact character of the document or documents embodying the agreed package of binding commitments has not been spelled out, but I anticipate no insuperable difficulties here.

Perhaps the major procedural obstacle to settlement is the Israeli insistence on face-to-face negotiation. Though the Israelis have no doubt conceived of this in some measure as a device to force Arab concessions, it nevertheless has great and real psychological significance for them. Unfortunately it appears to the Arabs as a means of dramatizing their humiliation and imposing Israeli terms, and hence has equal but negative psychological significance for them. It would be a tragedy for the parties and an unacceptable hazard to world peace if a settlement were permitted to break down over this essentially symbolic issue.

In my view the US should work toward a final face-to-face negotiation at the end of the road but until that time should leave Jarring discretion to stage manage as he sees fit the necessary exchanges between the parties. For us to insist on face-to-face negotiations now or in the next stage would almost certainly be unsuccessful and would risk aborting on a non-essential issue the whole effort at peacemaking in the Middle East which this administration has so wisely undertaken. The security of Israel is of great importance to us but this can be assured, if agreement can be achieved, by the legal and substantive safeguards we contemplate. Israel should not expect us to risk the serious US national interests we have at stake in defense of a demand which is not essential to their security, whatever its psychological significance may be.

A related but more substantive issue is how much of the package should be worked out between the US and the USSR or among the Four, and how much should be left to Jarring and the parties to settle. This can be handled to some extent by ear but it would be my judgment, on the basis of the past 18 months’ experience, that the parties are unlikely to settle any of the really tough issues without more help than Jarring can provide, and that the Two and the Four Powers will have to remain seized of the problem until it is settled.

I do not underestimate the difficulty of persuading the Israelis to accept even what we would consider a just, durable and internationally binding peace. I can only urge that we continue to formulate the terms of such a peace in closest consultation with them and that we endeavor [Page 79]persistently to convince them and their friends in the US that such a settlement would offer them far more security than has their present military posture.

I personally do not think that Hussein was exaggerating when he argued that the next few months may offer the last chance for peace in the Middle East, at least for a long time to come. The complexion of the Arab world, particularly the states adjacent to Israel, is changing, the prolonged occupation is producing not accommodation but rising passion, the youth are being radicalized, the Palestinians are acquiring a deepened sense of national identity and purpose. It may not be long, if there is no settlement, before Hussein and Nasser lose control of events, are swept along or replaced, and radicals committed to a solution far more dangerous to Israel take over. In that case war might not come soon but it would be infinitely more difficult to avoid eventually.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 649, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East Negotiations. Secret; Nodis.
  2. The Four-Power meetings were held in New York April 3, 8, 14, 17, and 21.